Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Island sheep baah in the sun

I'd been hoping for a while to get around to spinning some Hog Island wool, and now I have.  I'm delighted with the fiber and the results, and I'm sharing a little of my excitement with you.
a bobbin full of 2 ply Hog Island wool yarn
There are few feral sheep breeds in the world and almost no truly feral sheep populations left.  The Hog Island sheep were feral until the 1970's, when the Nature Conservancy bought the island land and removed the sheep to be protected by at Gunston Hall, Mount Vernon, Williamsburg, and a few other nearby historical organization sites with suitable land and expertise.  Hog Island itself, since you probably can't place it, is a small island off the Eastern Shore portion which is part of the state of Virginia (the Eastern Shore region is divided between the states of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, and some of the islands are large enough to be named though many are just sand bars to most of us).  Hog Island being about 45,000 acres, it was large enough for the sheep to be left to their own devices from the seventeenth century, when residents began allowing their sheep to simply graze at large.  Most humans left the island in the first half of the twentieth century, bringing the majority of the remaining sheep with them.  The sheep, amazingly, are still very much like the sheep of the early colonial period, according to Colonial Williamsburg experts (see this article for more).

The wool is reasonably soft, comparable to a medium to coarse Corriedale or Dorset wool.  It is fairly short, extremely lofty and elastic, and is wonderful to spin long draw.  This is the only commercially prepared wool I have ever bought which can be spun in a true long draw one handed style if you so choose.  Both white and colored wool is available for spinning.  I bought mine from Julie's Handspun Yarns; owner Julie George volunteers at Mt. Vernon Plantation and manages the fleeces directly from there (you can read more about that here).

It took me only four days to spin and ply four ounces of the fiber into 500 yards of two ply yarn.  There were simply no slow-downs and very little fiber waste.  I still have my other four ounces to spin and I am torn between spinning the rest identically to have about 1000 yards of one yarn; or to spin with a short forward draw into a very elastic three ply yarn suitable for socks and hard wear.  I'll have to decide very soon or else I'll never be able to have the option of spinning more to match what I have exactly; despite my copious spinning notes, I never have exactly the same fiber control and handling if I leave a long time between spinning sessions.

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